Sunday, January 27, 2008

Theology and the Spirit in some Pentecostal circles

Some time last year I was let in on what some people in our church thought about me. It was shocking to find that there was a fear that I could be a false prophet about whom the bible. It is this that I want to reflect on. My reflections on the matter are informed by memories of having been labelled as prayerless, cornered to credit the spiritual powers manifesting through me to demons. Later at seminary, I got lambasted for embracing rigorous theologising on Christian praxis. Again, one of my lecturers warned the class not to go deep with theology lest we lose the Spirit. This led to some seminarians labelling those perceived to have taken well to theology to be without the Spirit.

A situation of heated debates resulted from the above. All I seemed to hear was an equation of theological naivity to conduciveness for Spirit's indwelling and work. I could not accept limits on theological inquiry in the quest to retain the Spirit as right. I felt that knowledge comes because we ask and ask sincerely, unashamedly and deeply, seeking to understand; that what one claims to know or understand is soon challenged by new and different situations such that the 'knower' is sent to the drawing board repeatedly.

Today's world is changing fast. The questions we ask today might be irrelevant tomorrow. The answers which seem satisfactory today may turn totally unconvincing tomorrow. The nature and process of knowing itself is being thrown into question as the world undergoes these pervasive changes. So how can one not pursue understanding and sharpness in theological matters? This does not mean that I have attained the above, but that I press on towards attainment of understanding. My persistent questioning has brought me funny labels. I told a friend that the remaining label is being called the devil.
I think it is sad that some people among Pentecostals can be so anti-theology. It is probably the same attitude that has gotten us into so much confusion. I find it scandalous that some Pentecostals think that they can lead and pastor God's people without any intellectual preparation; that because they have the anointing of the Spirit, they need not be taught by 'men'; that the same people would rebel and lead others into rebellion should they be challenged on their assumptions.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

DIVINE HEALING: Beware the popular teaching

 The question of healing today is one that should concern us greatly. Firstly, the widening gap between the rich and poor of the world impacts on provision of health services to the multitudes of needy people. Secondly, the majority of the poor people of the world are found in the third world which also happens to be where Christianity is growing in leaps and bounds. The type of Christianity that is on the rise across the world is the Pentecostal - Charismatic one. One of the major characteristics of this form of Christianity is its belief in the availability and practice of divine healing today. As a Pentecostal, I too maintain the availability and practice of divine healing. But I have a serious concern which I think should be shared broadly. Popular teaching on divine healing seems Scripturally fraudulent and dangerous to many desperate people in Pentecostal - Charismatic churches and those without. This is what concerns me greatly. I shall go about arguing this point under the following headings:
  1. The fraudulance of popular teaching on divine healing
I hope to submit part 2 on the subject later. Its aim would be to propose a way of talking about the subject of divine healing in a manner that assists the sick to maintain faith in God regardless of whether healing manifests or not.
The fraudulance of popular teaching on divine healing
In order to establish whether popular teaching on divine healing is indeed Scripturally fraudulent or not, one needs to remember most sermons by itinerant tent evangelists concerning healing as well as beliefs held by most Pentecostal - Charismatic folks regarding healing. I have been raised in the circles of Pentecostals to believe that 'God heals.' Pentecostal meetings feature prayer for the sick. And every form of physical malady is prayed for. Everytime prayer is offered for physical sickness, it is underlined by a belief that 'God heals'. Listening to the accompanying teaching, one hears it proclaimed that all manner of sicknesses stand no chance in the presence of God and the application of his power. In some circles, it is taught that divine healing is for all believers for all time secured by Christ through his death. Consequently, a 'child of God' should live in health - for that is the sign of God's blessing. All these give a glimpse of the teaching around the subject. Now, the question that we want to ask is whether this teaching is Scriptural or not.
The scripturality of a teaching or belief depends on such a teaching being warranted in the Bible. I have argued that the teaching that 'God heals today' has warrants in the Bible, in history and contemporary experience (see God still heals today). But the problem that that particular study was dealing with, was a doubt if not a negation of God's involvement in today's healing activity. Now in this piece, where the concern is with fraudulence of popular teachings regarding divine healing, the question is: what is fraudulent about this so called popular teaching? I think that the fraudulence of popular teaching lies in its pretence that sickness and faith are opposites which can never be found together, that when a believer is sick, it points to either slackness in faith or God's disfavour, that religious repentance and faith expressed through confessions of the 'Word' and 'giving to God' are panacea for all ills of the body a believer can come across. That such a belief is fraudulent is borne firstly by Scriptural record and second by experience. The next section presents some evidence from the Bible against which the above stated belief should be seen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Accounts of Biblical Personalities with sickness
The Bible presents us with a number of stories which challenge the assertion that a believer should always be in health, that the opposite thereof points to slackness in faith and God's disfavour. The accounts of Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9, Galatians 4:13-15), Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), Epaphrodi'tus (Phillipians  2:25-26), Troph'imus (2 Timothy 4:20) present us with people we would definitely credit with being Christian and yet all these were sick at one time or another. The writer of the epistle of James expecting and assuming some of his audience to find themselves sick writes: Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14). Nowhere in these accounts is there an insinuation that these sick brethren were under God's disfavour or slacking in their faith. Certainly, there is no belief that they always ought to have lived in health because of what Christ has done at the cross. Paul himself, that mighty apostle, writes of a condition for which the Galatians would have given their eyes for him to be well. It is thought that it is this condition which he prayed to God for relief and was told that "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Timothy was not chided for his "stomach and frequent ailments" rather adviced to take wine (extend that to any medicine which can be prescribed for a medical condition). The accounts of these Christians call into question popular beliefs around healing which are in circulation today.Coming next is a brief focus on the experiences of some victimized Christian folks.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Experiences of some Christian folks, subjected to the divine healing ministry
The issue for me is not whether anybody (Christian) can be healed or not, rather, whether everybody (Christian) can and should be healed or not. I think the proponents of what I have termed 'popular teaching and belief on divine healing' maintain that everybody (who is a believer in Christ) can and should be healed. Their enthusiastic promises and claims on divine healing have attracted and will continue to attract multitudes of sick folks in and out of church across the world especially in the third world racked by poverty and disease. But are these promises fulfilled? Are the claims of divine healing made by the proponents of this belief true? To both the questions I would have to answer in the negative. I answer as a Pentecostal believer, preacher and leader who has participated in and observed divine healing administered. I may not have the statistical data concerning the success of prayer for healing, but it is safe to say that not all prayed for receive divine healing. This is despite the degree of faith that individuals may hold (how do you measure faith?). There are Christians who, if truth be told, have been disappointed and victimised, first by the ministers of divine healing and second, by themselves for failing to "believe (the Word of God) enough to be healed." These people would never acknowledge openly their disappointment and hurt for fear of further victimisation by other Christians or "a slap from God." Thus, the lie is upheld as truth - all people prayed for, are healed everytime, unless of course they lack faith! But at what cost?